Operation Corporate - An Introduction
The story of RAF command and control for OP CORPORATE is essentially one of improvisation. It quickly became apparent that the normal RAF pattern of command and control was not fitted to the highly unusual requirements of OP CORPORATE; instead a system had to be improvised as the operation unfolded and further roles added. That it worked is a tribute to the ability of individuals to adapt themselves and their aircraft to a special situation.
One of the most striking aspects of OP CORPORATE was the relationship between the three Services. Relations were always good, reflecting a widely held view of a very real sense of jointery. There was very close co-operation with all three, including the various secretariats, especially concerning procurement and planning.
At the time of the invasion, although there was a broad appreciation of Argentine military capabilities, there were no contingency plans in the accepted military sense. Therefore the idea of carrying out offensive air operations in the South Atlantic had never been envisaged. In addition, as the Royal Navy Task Force was very quickly constituted and despatched southwards, few of the roles which the RAF would play in support were immediately apparent. Thus it was necessary to start out with the existing structure, unsurprisingly not designed for major operations in remote theatres, and gradually adapt parts of it to cope with the specific needs as OP CORPORATE developed.
The main difficulty for all the staffs involved in Op CORPORATE, was the initial absence of any really useful intelligence both on the Argentine forces and on the situation in the South Atlantic. Many assessments and briefings had to reflect the uncertainty about Argentine movements, especially those of the fleet, in particular the aircraft carrier and the submarines, and above all the Argentine air assets.
As early as 2nd April 1982, the air and Exocet threat was identified as the biggest worry and, because of difficulties in intelligence collection, details of the basing and subsequent redeployment of the Argentine air assets on the mainland bases were simply not available. On the other hand the assessments made of Argentine strategic and tactical options, and the likely courses of action that they might adopt, were throughout the campaign perceptive and accurate, as were the timely warnings of the threats that might be posed to the Task Force. By the time the Task Force (TF) reached the Falklands area of operations, a very full picture of Argentine threats, capabilities and strengths was available, even if many important air deployments remained unknown.
It must be borne in mind that it was far from clear in the planning stages what the air side would be able, or required, to do in the South Atlantic. Land support operations were not seriously envisaged by the RN or by the RAF until early May, though as early as late April, Admiral Sandy Woodward was indicating that Sea Harriers might be needed for reconnaissance and air support during the landing operations. The essential task of the Sea Harriers would be to defend the TF, and their small numbers in relation to the size of the Argentine air forces suggested that they would have their work cut out. Losses could well be heavy, and the RAF reinforcements that were organised were initially intended as replacements in the same role, since the two carriers were believed to have the necessary expertise.
By the beginning of May, however, it was clear that an invasion would have to be launched; moreover, the early air fighting showed that the Harriers could more than hold theirown and that some of their effort would be available for air support. It was accordingly decided to send an air adviser to work with General Moore, the land force commander. The intention was to set up ashore as soon as possible a full Harrier forward operating base (FOB) capable of supporting 12 aircraft with fuel, weapons and standard turn-round facilities; owing in large part to the loss of the metal planking and Harrier spares aboard ATLANTIC CONVEYOR, the FOB that was eventually built could cope with only 4 aircraft at a time and merely provide refuelling. These limitations precluded the Harriers of No 1 Sqn being based ashore under the full command and control of General Moore, as had been hoped. Instead they remained based on the carriers under Admiral Woodward.
Down the line, while accepting all the practical constraints, there was undoubtedly a need for greater air expertise with the TF in the South Atlantic, both to ensure that its limited air assets were used to the best advantage and also to provide a proper appreciation of the capabilities of the aircraft operating from Ascension.